Gallows humour

“YES!”, I yelled, triumphantly, as I slammed down the phone.

“One off the caseload!”

(If you could say that to the rhythm of Alan Partridge’s, “Back of the net!”, you wouldn’t be far off)

When it comes to responding to news of a death, this wasn’t my finest hour – either as an older adult’s social worker, or a human being.*

(In my defence, it also wasn’t my worst, but I’ll save the “surprise midget vicar” story for another day)

Gallows humour – finding humour in tragedy, such as the loss of a loved one or discovering that David Hasselhoff is still alive – is a tricky thing to get right.

  • “When is it OK to cross the line? “
  • “Is it EVER OK?”
  • “Who’s responsible for drawing it?”
  • “Hang on… where the hell IS the line?”

When I was training as a social worker, I did a placement in a Child Protection team. As you can imagine, you witness a lot of unpleasantness working there, and that’s just Steve, the bastard who kept nicking my sandwiches.

You don’t work child protection because of its carefree work environment or because you think it’d be good for a laugh. You see the absolute worst society has to offer.

It’s like living in Doncaster.

If you want to survive, you need to find a way to process all the shite. If you don’t, when you get home and your wife greets you with, “Good day at work, dear?” (apparently, I live in 1955), you’ll stare hopelessly into the distance, collapse to the floor and burst into tears.

That is not good.

I was delighted to discover that Gallows humour was the way my team dealt with stress (finally my years of using humour as a defence mechanism would come into its own – suck it, Freud!). If Panorama had recorded our office behind closed doors, there would have been a national scandal.

“Sorry, is this the audio from the social work office or the maximum-security prison for offenders with Tourettes?”

It was there I noticed a pattern – the worse the horrors, the darker the humour we needed to deal with it.

If it wasn’t for gallows humour, I’d be writing this a divorced man. If I honestly answered my wife’s inquiry of “Yo! What’s up dogg?” (I really can’t get the balance right, can I?), she’d have been a mental wreck and left me after two days.

When you’re faced with that much suffering (I’m back talking about social work, not being married to me), you do whatever it takes to get through it.

It’s the same with this COVID-19 thing. We have no idea how bad it’s going to be or how long it’s going to last.

People are scared and looking for ways to make things better.

Some will use dark humour to escape – they’ll make biting comments, sarcastic posts, or share memes and inappropriate jokes.

Some will cross the line, or, more specifically, some will cross YOUR line of acceptability.

Do me a favour, would you?

Give them a break.

Start from the assumption that they’re frightened, worried and anxious and doing whatever they can to make life a little bit easier – for them and for everyone else.

See an inappropriate comment? Let that fly by.
Someone posted a cartoon you disapprove off? Keep scrolling
Someone makes a disparaging remark about 1980s pop sensation Cheryl Baker? TAKE THEM DOWN!

(There are some lines you don’t cross)

Fortunately, few people are inherently evil. Most of us are trying our best, which is hard when you’re anxious and uncertain.

If there was ever a time that showed we’re all on the same side, it’s now, so cut your teammates a little slack.

When you see something that triggers you, don’t look at the line, look at the person crossing it.

Are they OK, or could they do with some help?

* I feel the need to point out, especially given my level of jubilation, that I didn’t kill them – they died of natural causes. As I informed the Policeman as he pushed my face into his bonnet, the hammer, plastic sheeting and chainsaw I bought from B&Q the day prior were for an unrelated, and totally legitimate, domestic task. I don’t care if you believe me – the jury did and that’s all that counts.